Title: Cinder Ella
Publisher: Story Prism Press
Author: ST Lynn
Ella is transgender. Named Cole at birth and assumed to be male, she knows that she is a girl. Her father knew, too. But he has passed away, leaving her to the mercies of her hateful and greedy stepmother and stepsisters. Fortunately for Ella, she is a skilled gardener, and her flowers attract the attention of Princess Lizabetta, who personally invites her to the upcoming ball. Ella’s stepmother is furious, but a royal invitation cannot be ignored. And then the tailor appears with her strange carriage that is bigger on the inside and filled with gorgeous gowns, the likes of which no one has ever seen ….
I discovered Cinder Ella, the first book in a collection of fairy tales featuring Black trans characters, through a kickstarter campaign. I loved the idea of such a collection, so I backed the entire project: Cinder Ella, Beauty’s Beast, and Mer Made. If Cinder Ella is anything to go by, the entire collection will be wonderful, sweet, and heart-warming.
First, Ella is a terrific protagonist. She is not one of those ridiculously strong characters who seems immune to the feelings of others. She is in pain at her treatment by her stepmother and stepsisters, and over-the-top ecstatically happy at being finally, truly seen for who she is by Princess Lizabetta. But she is also strong enough to not fear hard work, or fresh starts. She loves her dog Lady, she loves gardening and the roses, and she loves herself — even if no one else does.
(Spoiler: yes, other people love Ella just as she is. It just takes her a while to realize that.)
The fairy godmother is also wonderful. Definite Mary Poppins vibes. No wand, no fluttery wings, no pumpkin. She is no nonsense, firm, and clever; downright sneaky. She exhibits no overt magic; instead, she uses glamours and verbal manipulation to get the results she desires (namely, getting Ella to the ball). And it’s not just Ella who benefits from her help; so do others, both high nobility and lowly farmers.
I have only one small complaint. I think the story ended a bit abruptly. I would have liked a few more pages showing what happened after Lizabetta tracked down Ella (what became of Ella’s stepfamily? how did the introduction go with the royal family? what became of Ella’s friends?). But that is a minor complaint and does not detract from how much I enjoyed the rest of the story.
I look forward to reading Mer Made and Beauty’s Beast next. I hope that Lynn writes more fairy tales, and I will definitely be watching kickstarter for more campaigns. Recommended to fans of Zoe Cannon’s Not Your Heroine, Kate Stradling’s Soot and Slipper, and Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Castle Charming.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]